Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next stop is Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where the A's play their spring home games. Hideki Matsui(notes) is the big man on campus with a huge entourage, but the rest of the A's might sneak up on everyone.
2010 RECORD: 81-81, second place in AL West
BIGGEST ACQUISITION: Not only is he still a potent slugger and respected teammate, but Hideki Matsui is going to be a marketing machine. All of the folks back home in Japan are going to want A's stuff now.
BIGGEST DEPARTURE: His strikeouts were frustrating, his defense often was hilariously inadequate, and his home run power even dipped to unacceptable levels, yet Jack Cust(notes) still led the team in on-base and slugging percentage.
FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE A's
1. Do they have the deepest pitching staff in the league? Though the top of the A's rotation probably isn't ready to dominate, it did get folks out last year. Trevor Cahill(notes), though some of his stats tell us to expect regression, comes off a great second season. Dallas Braden(notes) and his grandmother will have a hard time topping that perfect game, but he's a good No. 3 or 4. Gio Gonzalez(notes) put it together and led the team in strikeouts. Brett Anderson(notes) is better than all of them, though an injury prevented him from getting a full season of starts. Rich Harden(notes) is around, and healthy — for the moment. The X-factor is lefty Josh Outman(notes), whom Bob Geren said was the A's best pitcher in 2009 before his elbow popped. Outman just had a strong intrasquad performance and is optimistic he'll be at his best by June or July. Then there's the bullpen, which already was sound with Andrew Bailey(notes) and Craig Breslow(notes), has added Grant Balfour(notes) and Brian Fuentes(notes), and might get Joey Devine(notes) back from Tommy John surgery.
2. Did Billy Beane upgrade the offense enough? There's kind of a San Francisco Giants vibe about the roster. No superstars, but decent production in the outfield, second base and first base. They'll probably need to make a trade to add another bat. Matsui turns 36 in June, but is coming off another productive season (.275/.361/.459). The A's have a lot of depth in the outfield and first base, though the offensive production doesn't knock you over anywhere. Josh Willingham(notes) has a career .841 OPS, though some of his power will be muted because of the hitting conditions at the Coliseum. David DeJesus(notes) (.289/.360/.427) is coming off a wrist injury, but he's the kind of player the A's hope Ryan Sweeney(notes) turns into someday.
3. What are they going to do with youngsters Chris Carter and Michael Taylor(notes)? Beane's staff did a nice job of acquiring young outfield talent such as Sweeney, Taylor and Carter (whose primary position is first base). But then Willingham and DeJesus came along to join Coco Crisp(notes) and first baseman Daric Barton(notes) — who's one of the A's better players — and suddenly Carter and Taylor appear blocked. Also, if Conor Jackson's(notes) comeback from injuries is a success, he figures to get playing time as a backup outfielder/first baseman. Carter and Taylor are at the point where they need to play. Trade bait?
4. How close are they to getting a new ballpark? Owner Lew Wolff addressed this, again, just the other day in camp. The A's have been talking about moving somewhere for three years, but they can't seem to find the way to San Jose; They're reportedly being blocked by the crossbay Giants, who have a minor league team there. Bud Selig and MLB have been dragging their feet. It's funny, because Wolff is also seeking to make upgrades in the A's spring training park in Phoenix. He wants the locals to fund it, of course, to the tune of $30 million. "Chump change," Wolff called it, in comparison to what other teams have been spending. Only, Phoenix doesn't really have the extra money lying around. Who will step forward to pay the A's freight?
5. When does "Moneyball" the movie come out? The film adaptation of Michael Lewis' book about how Beane rebuilt the A's, SABR-style, hits theaters Sept. 23! Brad Pitt as Beane! Jonah Hill and Paul DePodesta! Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe! Are you kidding me? Start the projector!